By Jane Flanagan
One day Rusty, my five-year-old son, and I were playing Battery Park shuttle bus. He wants to be a shuttle bus driver when he grows up so this is one of his favorite games. On this particular ride he instructed me to bring my pretend son along.
With one hand on his makeshift steering wheel, Rusty turned to ask where we wanted to go.
Bowling Green, I said, clutching my son, a baby doll in a pink dress.
Okay, he said. He then reached down underneath the dashboard to pull out two Matchbox cars.
Would your son like a toy?
It was quite a moment. Rusty emulates adults all the time. Everyday hes a got a new phrase or idea. But it occurred to me in that moment, that the adults hes emulating like little children and this got me thinking.
Ive long believed it takes a village and I like the village he is growing up in Lower Manhattan.
When Rusty was two we moved into an apartment building in south Battery Park. The guys who worked there were from Albania and I never saw a group of men who fussed more over children. The year we lived there that building was our village.
Lets throw Ricks car into the river, said Sal, the handyman, squatting down to eye level with Rusty in his stroller. It was a running gag all the guys had with him whose car would be thrown in the river each day. The thought of a 3,000-pound auto plunging into the Hudson thrilled his two-year-old brain.
Most of those guys moonlighted nights and weekends. But they always had energy, stepping from behind the desk, climbing down from a ladder to joke with him. Sometimes theyd perform antics. One day when Rusty was 3, Sal kicked a garbage can and knocked it over. Rusty still laughs remembering that.
I was glad to be living close to Wagner Park and its morning toddler play. It was my chance to meet other Moms while running after rambunctious Rusty. But what I hadnt counted on was Alex. Alex is a Parks Conservancy employee, overseeing tumbling toddlers. Every morning he and the staff would fill the park with climbing equipment, balls, books, a sprinkler and all kinds of trucks and dolls.
For some time I thought that Alex was a two-year-old. Thats because Veera, my babysitter, and Rusty kept coming home talking about him and how much fun he was. One day when Rusty and I were at Wagner, a big, tall, athletic looking guy came up to me. Hi. Are you Rustys mom, he said. Im Alex.
With that, he grabbed a ball, throwing it up high onto the terrace that overlooks the park delighting Rusty. And then it was on to the next game. After that I began seeing Alex everywhere. Like many of the parks people, he works on projects from one end of Battery Park City to the other, getting around atop a tiny, open air jeep. It made our day whenever Rusty and I saw him.
Later, at the Downtown Little School, off Fulton St., Rustys world expanded. Kate, a native New Yorker who started the school about a decade ago, has a keen eye for talent. She picks warm, smart teachers. She also spent a lot of time learning about very young children and what they need, designing a curriculum accordingly. That came in very handy for us.
At age 3, Rusty was frightened of being separated from me or Veera. But enabling children to feel good about separating was a top priority with Kate. For a couple of weeks into the start of the school year, parents or caregivers were asked to stay on, either in the classroom or hallway, until the children were ready to let go. It worked beautifully for us.
As a result, Rusty came to love school, viewing it as a safe, loving place where he could do the kinds of things he liked.
Kindergarten starts next week. Im nervous. It will be a new school, new teachers, new children and a much longer school day. I fear bumpy times. But, it will be okay. Hes going to P.S. 89 its in the village.